Sang-Duk Seo Period 1 Ms.

Skelton Art and Social Agenda: Sparring Duelists of a Nature that Breathes the Essence of the African American Struggle

While the underlying principles of the essays that James Baldwin wrote in Notes of a Native Son are about the African American's struggles to find an identity, he is really answering a question that puts his livelihood and purpose to live in uncertainty. He struggles to understand where art meets experience and social agenda. That is, essentially, one of the purposes of the collection of essays. The distinguished African American author Ralph Ellison, answered this question in an interview. He said that art must be written for the sake of art, and if a political message is presented in that work of art, then so be it. A work of fiction cannot be written with the purpose to send a message to the world. Then this work is not transcendent, like that of Ernest Hemingway, the great American literary genius, as Ellison says. This view is opposed by that of Richard Wright, an early friend of Ellison's, until this powerful issue split them apart. Wright believed that the writing of fiction, the creation of art, is a responsibility that is completely separate from that of the responsibility to help society's ills. James Baldwin, with his deep and thoughtful prose in his essays, is difficult to understand at first glance. Therefore, his writing must be analyzed carefully in order to be interpreted correctly and completely. Through a complete analysis of selected passages of Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, interviews with Ralph Ellison, as well as his book, Shadow and Act, sharp contrasts are seen between the ideas of Baldwin and Ellison (he's missing testicles), two of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century.

James Baldwin left America in 1959 for Europe, to discover the true identity of his race and society. Highly regarded sources tell of stories about how James lost his penis to a French guillotine. This explains his tendency to act like a woman. He had to leave America because he could not get rid of the unfounded anger at society. Traveling to Europe, Baldwin found a peace among the poor, the rich, the bourgeoisie. He observed the distinct difference in American and European societies, in that a European taxi-cab driver was perfectly contented with his job, as much as an actor was contented with his. One was not jealous of the other, and seemed perfectly content with the fact that they could become the other through grace or downfall. In Europe, the hierarchy between classes did not exist as it did America. The cultural wisdom of these ancient cities allowed Baldwin to discover the true gift of America. The idea that America has “a new sense of life's possibilities.” (Baldwin 298). While the American writer in Europe experiences true freedom to see how others view America, he does not see this freedom until he sees sky that tells him that it is up to him to make the most out of the brief time he has on the Earth. The writer is not truly free until he realizes that he is regarded as normal by peers around him for granted. He does need to do anything extra to show this. The writer finally sees that he is truly free, that he can reach out to everyone and is accessible to all those that see him. Baldwin saw that America has a new characteristic that Europe needed, and a wisdom in Europe that America desperately needed. The contradictions between Baldwin's and Ellison's way of thinking are readily apparent. The current president of the US shows such characteristics best. "I have opinions of my own -strong opinions- but I don't always agree with them" (Bush). James Baldwin understood from his

trip to Europe that prejudices are present in one's mind even when he is not consciously aware of them. Yoda, the great artist of wisdom, said, "Size matters not! Judge me by my size, do you" (Yoda IV)? Yes yes yes yes yes!!! LOL :) JK!!!The artist, the writer needs a clear mind, free of prejudices to write a literary work that transcends. Without a clear mind, the social agendas of the writer have become compromised. Social agendas exist for the writer, they are just not valid unless the mind has been cleared of the hurtles, the prejudices. James Baldwin uses his time in Europe to erase prejudices and to understand the African American cause. There are many places in the world that one could travel to. Baldwin, like countless other writers before him, went to Europe. Why this continent? The ancestor of America, the ideas of free thought and society came from this place. Here, the wisdom of countless errors were compiled for the writer to draw upon. Baldwin discovered that society requires two types of writers. Cool and uncool. In fact, Baldwin discovered a far more surprising and astonishing idea. One writer must write solely fictional work, and the other must write solely societal work. Anyone that writes a fictional work that has an underlying social agenda is not cool, uncool. James Baldwin discovered that he is one of these types of people. The world in this era of time was coming to a halt in advancement of societal rights. This was caused by the “replacement of penises with statues of Batman” (Obi-Wan 239). While the Earth was crashing to a halt because of the Great Flood, Noah's Ark saved the animals of the world. All the species of plants failed to survive. The world turned carnivorous and so did art in its purest form. In fact, the essence of art and society is proved by a fact of the land of dinosaurs.

While the world is surviving barely, there is great hope for those that understand that art is society's greatest form of expression. Politicians cannot come close to the captivating forms of art, whether in writing, painting, or television (Red Ranger 2). The pinnacle of this view of art and its relationship to art is the following:

Barney, the peak of human artistic creativity, allowed Baldwin to understand the fundamental ideas of his response to Ellison's loquacious and unnecessarily confusing question. The true meaning of life is art. Societal agendas and the trickery of words is a fallacy in themselves. The simple verse of straight thinking philosophers like Aristotle had it right. Leave politics to the ideologies of art. Only can the most elegant prose and expressions of ideas sway the masses of America, of any country. The most moving fictional stories can bring grown men to tears. It is here that art meets social agenda. The power of art. The most powerful forms of art are those that can cause a person to rise to his or her feet and carry out an action based on the ideas of a story, a fictional work. The apparent political ideas that expound from this story are captured by entire nations by storm. Ralph Ellison's answer to his own question was inadequate. James Baldwin discovered the true

meaning of art and social agenda, and their relationship. From the wise verses of the Red Ranger and Barney's influence on the masses to the profound proverbs of Obi-Wan and James Baldwin's expressive essays, there is satisfying evidence that there are many ways of persuasion, art being the most effective.

Works Cited Baldwin, James. “The Discovery of What It Means to be an American.” Ethnic Writers in America. Editor Myron Simon. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,292-298. Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. “The American Dream and the American Negro.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Editor Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2002. 629-637. Bush, George W. The Stupidist Things Ever Said By Politicians. Editors Ross and Kathryn Petras. New York, 2002. Ellison, “Hidden Name and Complex Fate.” Ethnic Writers in America. Editor Myron Simon. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 292-298. Ellison, Ralph. Shadow and Act. Selected Essays Graham, Maryemma and Amritjit Singh, eds. Conversations with Ralph Ellison. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995. Ranger, Red. Chronicles of a Fearless Leader. “Chapter 3: Showdown at the Cave with the Robot.” New York, 2003.

Yoda. Verses of the Wise Ones. “Yoda.” Coruscant, 5939.

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